10 Days: Right

I don’t really know why I am writing this part of my 10 days. I don’t really know who its for or why I am sharing it. But here goes.

I got to the airport Friday morning to make my pilgrimage to my family home in Wisconsin. I was going Home. Sometimes you go Home just to go Home. Sometimes you go Home for times of great joy. And sometimes you go Home for times of sadness. It’s Home. And because Home is Life it has all of those things in it.

I hadn’t been sleeping well. That’s the first thing that deserts me when I have stuff going on. My sense of sadness and dread had been building all week.

But when I got to the airport, well, a strange thing happened. That all went away. I realized somewhere deep in my heart that what I was doing was Right. It was absolutely what I needed to do. It’s hard to express but it was just Right. That’s the word, but it doesn’t seam complete enough. Kind of like talking about Flow. The word is just a word it doesn’t express the totality.

The flight was uneventful, I met up with my parents at the airport (they also flew in Friday) and we headed Home.

I stay at my Grandma’s house when I visit. It’s the center of Home for me. When I saw Grandma I gave her a big slow hug. I ate a quick dinner and I was off to see my uncle.

I had talked with his daughters, my cousins, on Wednesday and they warned me. I was pleasantly surprised at how good he looked given everything that was going on. Wednesday it turns out had been a bad day. Friday was a good day. We had a great visit. When I was about to leave, my cousins came over (partially to say hi to me and partially to see their dad). I spent another hour or so with all of them. It was a really really nice visit.

Saturday, I fell into what was a normal (well as normal as it could be) rhythm for when I am Home. I got pp early and went over to the farm to see family and visit while they worked. Then I had breakfast with my cousins. It was more serious. We could talk more openly since we were not around my uncle. It was a time to get some facts. More, it was a time to connect and take care of each other. I don’t have sisters. These two cousins are the closest I have to that and we spent the time Being with each other.

I went running later that morning. Grabbed my headphones, put on Creed and hit some pavement. It ended up being the best run I have had this fall. 40 minutes and a fast pace.

Then I went back to see my uncle. I told him I wanted to get out with him if he was up to it. So we jumped in his truck and drove around looking at the farm. We talked about silos and cows. He showed me some of the new property that my farming uncles had purchased. We were alone and I was planning on talking with him more deeply but didn’t. Riding around like this and talking crops and cows is what we normally do. I was selfish. I wanted That. I didn’t want to spoil That by admitting anything was wrong. I don’t think he did either and so in that sense it wasn’t selfish. It was unspoken. I left my uncle so that he could nap before church.

I decided to go to church with my family. Long ago I “left” the church (recovering Catholic ;) ) because of philosophical differences that I didn’t see how I could rectify. But I still love that church. Its small and beautiful. Regardless of my differences with “the church” this church is part of Home. And it too has been the scene of great joy and great sadness. I wanted to see it. A lot of my extended family was there and it was nice to see them and talk with them even if just for a couple of minutes.

Sunday it was time to go back to Michigan. The 1pm flight meant that I had to leave at about 9:30.

I went over to say good bye to my uncle at 8:30. I am not going to say much about that fair well, its private. My uncle has a new wife who I don’t know exceptionally well. But she is awesome. After we chit chatted for a while she looked at us and excused herself to go “clean the bedroom”. I said the things that needed to be said. It was one of the hardest and most painful things I have ever chosen to do on purposes. 10 hours in Leadville had nothing on this. I never said good bye. My last words were “I love you” as I left the house. In a weird twist of fate/timing Coreen text’d me as I was walking out the door. “I love you and I wish I was there with you.” (Thank You C.)

My cousin was taking me to the airport. I knew I had about 30 minutes to go back to Grandma’s before she came. I resolved to hold it together in front of Grandma (she’s 90 and anything I can do to keep positive around her I will do). When my cousin came Grandma got an extra long and firm hug.

The door had barely closed behind me when I looked at my cousin. “I am going to be pathetic here for about 10 minutes.” She nodded. We got into her car and drove away. We cried together for just about 10 minutes.

I text’d my cousin when I got back to Michigan to tell her thanks for the ride and to let her know how important that ride was to me. She replied that she knew and it was important for her too. For me it was a balm that I needed to put on me to get through being in public to go home. The best word here is raw. I was raw and I didn’t want to be in public. I didn’t want to talk to anyone or see anyone. I wanted to be alone. But I had enough salve on me that I didn’t snap or go to pieces when the nice, happy, totally, oblivious people at the airport would say “How are you doing today?” With big customer oriented smiles on their faces. The closest I came to loosing it was replying to the TSA guy who asked me how I was doing, that it “was complicated”. He looked at me smiled just a little smile and said “My brother always tells me not to ask that unless I want to here someones shit.” (WTF is it with people looking at my face and Seeing? Engineers don’t have feelings. We have calculators and duct tape.)

I made it back to Michigan.

When I got the news about my uncle a couple of weeks ago I had a conversation with a friend. It went something like this:

“I realize how stupid I have been in my life. How often have I told people or thought that they are Lucky because they got to say good bye? I don’t feel Lucky.”

“No, you are not Lucky.”

I don’t know how to describe what I am. Lucky is absolutely the wrong word. It’s a complex feeling. Fortunate may be the closest thing I can come to it and even that is wrong. It sounds like it was something good. What is happening has nothing good about it. I went out to visit and be with my uncle. I went to say the things that needed to be said. And even right now I cannot say even that I am ‘glad’ that I did that. Maybe that will come in time. I did it because it was Right.

Picture of the Day

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“Going Home”

10 Days: The Normal

My little oasis or normalcy happened during the middle of this 10 day span. Life went back to the schedule that Noah and I had developed for just a brief moment. It was blessedly mundane. You know the usual kind of stuff.

Fixing Noah’s laptop after he spilled hot chocolate on it. While not a “normal” occurrence I did get to be a super dad who saved the day for him on that one. We did end up having to get a new computer, BUT it was the same kind and so I swapped the hard disk and hoped it would boot without us having to re-install everything he had. It worked.

Fixing my bike. While out on a training ride I heard that nice little “ping” noise indicating a spoke had broken. I made it home nicely on the bike and went to the bike shop. Where we discovered that when I dropped the chain while racing at Pando the chain had sheered all of the outside spokes at the hub. My rear tire was a disaster waiting to happen. I am just lucky that that I didn’t have a more serious brake down. I had been hard on my bike and it could very well have collapsed on me at some point.

But as much as I wished it time didn’t stop (stupid forward march of time) and as the oasis days came closer to Friday I steadily became more nervous.

10 Days: The Good

As I mention in my last post, I am currently in the midst of an extra ordinary 10 day span in which I get to experience the total gamut of what life has to offer.

The first 4 days of those were the highs. Coreen came on Friday to visit me and Noah. I picked her up from the airport. Well once I figured out the parking situation at the Detroit airport (for which the signage really stinks) I picked Coreen up from the airport. We got to the apartment and lickity split we had to head out. Noah was marching with the East Lansing High School Marching Band at the Friday night football game.

Coreen and I found our place in the bleachers (resting comfortably on the aluminum benches in cold weather, yeah heat sapping!).

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and watched Noah play with the marching band.

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(Noah is the last kid in the second row from the right.)

Saturday was a whirlwind. Apple picking

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and dinner with Coreen’s best friend in Michigan. (Noah dumped us at dinner to go over to a friends house.)

Sunday. Biking and running (I dumped them to ride hard :) )

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and then dinner with Coreen’s old boss and good friend. His daughter used to babysit for us when we lived here. Bailey was 4, Noah was 6 months old. Now she is married, has a 2 year old and is expecting her second child (and Bailey gets his drivers licence next week). Yeah we are getting old. Noah made a friend (he was absolutely the most fascinating thing in the 2 year old’s universe at that dinner).

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Monday Noah went to school. I went to work in the morning and Coreen had coffee with her “bestie”. Coreen and I had a lunch date and walked around East Lansing. We got to hold hands and just stroll around a little bit.

Tuesday I took her back to the airport (the signage was not a problem).

Whew!

It was a great weekend. Just enough active time and just enough downtime. Michigan was the first place that Coreen and I “lived” and had adult friends. It was truly a lot of fun to have her around. But there was not nearly enough Coreen time. Still she will be back in a couple of weeks for another visit with Bailey. :)

10 Days

The next 10 days are going to be extra ordinary, running about as wide a gamut as 10 days probably could. It is a time to reminder to live in the moment.

Today I am heading off to the airport to pick up my super awesome wife who is coming to visit Noah and me in Michigan. Noah and I are both really excited. I mean how could we not be?

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It’s going to be a fun filled weekend of apple picking, corn mazes and visiting friends.

Tuesday I go back to the airport so that Cori can get home and get ready for a new job.

Then Thursday I pack for a trip.

It was supposed to be a trip to Northern Lower Michigan for the Crystal Mountain Peak to Peak race and some sightseeing. Noah and I were going to go and have an adventure.

But instead I am packing for a trip out to Wisconsin by myself.

It’s going to be a difficult trip.

I am going out there to say good bye to my godfather. He is sick, and not the kind of sick that will get better (Hey cancer, you suck… and that’s from both me and Yeti…. so up yours). I am not going to eulogize him now because, well, its not the time. It is sufficient here to say that outside of my immediate family he is probably one of my extended family members that I am closest too.

Right now its time to spend some time with him while I still can.

So yeah, well that’s my next 10 days.

One of my favorite movies of all times is Parenthood. This is one of the best quotes from it. It seams to somehow fit my next week.

Grandma: You know, when I was nineteen, Grandpa took me on a roller coaster.

Gil: Oh?

Grandma: Up, down, up, down. Oh, what a ride!

Gil: What a great story.

Grandma: I always wanted to go again. You know, it was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled all together! Some didn’t like it. They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around. Nothing. I like the roller coaster. You get more out of it.

Yeah, I know…….

As the summer started to wind down I started to think about training this winter, and that is when the trouble started.

For some unknown reason I started to think that it would be a good idea to do some cross-training. Of course the obvious thing is running. Well I am not really a runner. Running to me is just something to be endured. When I am running my mind keeps thinking about what I could be doing on a bike.

Then I started to think about maybe trying trail running. I mean that’s kind of like mountain biking right? It didn’t help that one of you my dear readers has gotten into trail running and for some reason has dedicated a vast portion of time on his own blog (which I kindly remind YOU CHRIS is named after a bike part not anything running!) to running these days.

Then I was at a running store with my wife (who was looking for new running shoes) and asked do you have trail running shoes. I tried a couple but somehow I could not pull the trigger on the $170 pair that I liked the best. So no worries. That idea sat idle for a couple of months.

Then the other day I made the mistake of looking up those shoes on line to see how much they cost. And much to my chagrin, I found a pair on clearance (2014’s are so “last year”) for just about 50% off. Before I knew it my card was out and they shoes were on their way to my door. Then through the magic of free 2 day shipping they were at my door. A brand new pair of Hoka Stinson Trail shoes.

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They are a little strange to look at. Total opposite of the minimalist shoes that became so popular because people thought that they could run like indigenous peoples if they ran barefoot. These shoes were designed for ultra runners (OK people don’t even go there. My DNA would totally have to be rewired in order to consider THAT!).

I knew what was going to happen. I needed to get that first run (its been about 8 months since I did any running) out of the way. Well not so much the run as the sore muscles (which remarkably seem to have NOTHING in common with the biking muscles I have worked on so hard). Saturday I “ran” 5k. The conversation with Noah before I headed out went like this:

Noah: You going biking?

Me: No, running.

Noah: Ohhh………….

Me: Yeah I know……..

(Even Noah was doubting the wisdom of this choice.)

Sunday well it hurt. You know the kind of muscle hurt that when you go down a stair makes you doubt that your legs are going to be able to stop your body when you step down to the next step. I got in a shortish (1:15) ride to stretch my legs (which were remarkably shot from running, again proving that bike muscles have nothing to do with running muscles). Now Monday, still sore. Yeah it seemed like a good idea at the time. Yeah it will be better next time I run. Yeah I knew it would happen like this.

The Elusiveness of Flow

Flow. That elusive feeling we get when we are in the moment totally in tune with the activity we are doing.

Flow is talked about in mtb land in a slightly different sense than in the more universal way. In mtb land flow is used to describe a trail. Usually it refers to a trail that allows one to ride a section in what feels like an effortless way. You can see the similarities there and why the word flow was picked to describe mountain bike trails. You can be on a “flowy” mtb trail and not feel the more mystical flow that the oneness with an activity brings.

That mystical flow is more difficult to find and even harder to keep.

When I was racing last Sunday I found my flow. The more mystical flow. I was in the moment. The only thing that mattered was what was happening to me right then. The only person I was concerned about was the person who was in front of me. Life simplified down to one stroke after another. And it was fun. I was lucky in that at some point I realized I was there and it didn’t ruin the moment for me. Sometimes all it takes is the momentary distraction of realizing you are flowing to loose your flow.

Enjoy those times. They are fleeting. My state of flow ended with the drop of a chain, and all I was left with was the kindness of strangers and a bike ride on a beautiful day. It could have been worse. ;)

Picture of the Day

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“Fall Morning in Michigan”

Pando

Pando XC. My race yesterday was complicated……..it had it’s ups and downs.

It started with a very heavy heart. We found out that my godfather in all likelihood has cancer last Wednesday, and the indications are it’s bad. Very bad. My godfather is a person who is very important to me and so the news was a real blow. I am waiting till some test results come back to find out how quickly I need to get out to Wisconsin to visit him. Yeah, it put a damper on my week.  I had some very good advice from a friend who raced with a heart much heavier than mine and experienced how emotion can affect you when you race. But I wanted to ride and ride strong today. So I planned to be angry, but smart. Use the emotion to go hard on the uphills. Pound them. And then be smart on the single track.

When I warmed up I knew I had good legs and that all the bruises I had from my race two weeks ago were all healed. I was looking forward to a very very good day.

Pando is an excellent course for me. Lots of climbing (well as much as you can get in southern Michigan anyway) and not exceptionally technical. At the start I was in last place (I am just not a good sprinter compared to the sport guys right now). But right out of the shoot you go up the biggest climb of the course and I stayed with the group. I knew that I would be OK and relaxed into the race. I resolved to ride the race steady, not to burn myself out on any one lap or climb and pick people off as they showed any sign of weakness.

During the second climb on the first lap I started to pass the people in the back of my pack. Somewhere on that first lap in some relatively tame single track I fell. I am still not sure why. It wasn’t on anything tough or hard. Maybe my tire got clipped by the guy behind me. Maybe I just rolled it on a loose rock. It doesn’t matter. Nothing was broken (except for my barfly garmin mount) so I got back up and passed the guys who had passed me when I went down. When we got to the start finish line I was still in contact with the lead group, though I was a little bit behind. I started to catch up to people again, and as they cracked just a little bit, I passed them on the climbs. I had an excellent second lap. On the third lap I kept it up.

I realized I was having fun. I was in the moment. Then on a little steep kicker, after the two big climbs, disaster struck.

I down shifted and my chain skipped off the back cassette and became lodged between the hub and the cassette. Probably there was too much tension in my chain when I down shifted. And when I say stuck it was not just a little bit stuck, but as  far down as it could go. I couldn’t get it out. As people came and passed me I became more more frustrated. Eventually threw my bike down off the trail.

Everything that happened this week spilled to the surface and I felt like I was finished. Some of the people I have met and ridden with out here rode by and asked if I needed help. I didn’t want them to stop their races on my account and so I waved them on. Then one of the elite riders came by with a beginner teen he was coaching. They were pre-riding before the beginners race and he was giving the teen advice on how to race the trail. They stopped and asked if they could help. I showed it to them and said that it was OK, I had a crappy week, and this was just the icing on the cake. I said I was finished and I was going to walk down. The elite rider looked up at me and must have seen something in my face. He said, “Its a beautiful day, you are on a great course, we are going to fix this and you are going to keep riding.” It took the three of us, with tire tools, working together just over 10 minutes to get the chain out, but eventually we freed it.

I got on my bike and finished the third lap, and then I went out and finished my 4th lap. I was pretty burnt at that point and so I am sure my last lap was not my best one (confirmed via STRAVA). The finish was at the top of the first climb (so in 4 laps you get to do that big climb 5 times). I locked out my front fork, stood and climbed to the finish like there was no hill there at all.

I looked at the results tonight. I ended up 13th out of 16 riders in my group. The last three riders had DNF’s so I was the last rider in my group to finish. I was 15 minutes behind the person who won my group. You can do the what if’s. Believe me I already have.

I don’t know where I could have finished, I don’t really care (ok that’s not entirely true). I was competitive with the sport guys. My best lap time doubled (the beginners did 2 laps to our 4) would have won the beginner group in my age bracket by more than a couple of minutes. Today I never got passed by the fast guys from the groups starting behind me (well until I lost my chain). I passed many many more people than people who passed me. And in the end I finished. I guess I may actually belong in that group.

I have said before that part of what makes mountain bike races so much fun are the people. Today two riders who were strangers took time out to help another rider who was clearly having a rough time. The elite rider said just the right thing to me to keep me from becoming the 4th rider on the DNF list. I wish I could have gotten his name so that I could thank him properly, but the universe knows. I trust he will be paid back for his kind help and words.

I know the next weeks are going to be challenging. I should be finding out how challenging at some point today. I have one more race to do while I am in Michigan. Its in 3 weeks on another course that should be good for me. Maybe, just maybe I can catch a brake. I feel like I deserve it.

Picture of the Day

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“Noah at Pando”